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Combatting terrorism

Since the attacks of 11 September 2001, the fight against terrorism has been the primary concern of the United Nations, both within the Security Council and the General Assembly.

Security Council action to fight-terrorism

Following the attacks of 11 September 2001, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1373. In this text, the Security Council called on Member States to implement a number of measures to strengthen their legal and institutional capacity to fight against terrorist activities, in particular as regards financing terrorism as well as international cooperation in the area of fighting terrorism. The Resolution also calls on States to become Parties to the international legal instruments on the fight against terrorism as soon as possible.

The resolution also created a Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC), which is responsible for ensuring that States comply with their obligations under Resolution 1373 and assisting the development of national and international mechanisms to prevent and suppress acts of terrorism. The CTC is assisted by the Secretariat’s Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), which carries out the policy decisions of the Committee, conducts expert assessments of each Member State and facilitates counter-terrorism technical assistance to countries.

Security Council action against Al-Qaida

The Security Council has dealt with terrorism issues since the early 1990s. Its action at the time mainly involved adopting sanctions against States with suspected links to terrorist acts. In 1999, the Council created an initial counter-terrorism tool by adopting Resolution 1267: Committee 1267, a Security Council Subsidiary Body, is thus responsible for monitoring sanctions imposed on Al-Qaida (travel ban, assets freeze, arms embargo).

This regime underwent major reform in June 2011, in particular in order to distinguish it from the sanctions regime against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Today, members and entities linked to Al-Qaida have been sanctioned for their actions in Afghanistan, but also in Iraq, Syria and Mali. The Council convenes regularly to update the list in order to reflect as fully as possible the reality of a constantly-changing threat. Many persons and bodies are thus registered, generally on the basis of information presented by States. The Committee decisions are taken by consensus. The 1267 Committee uses an independent group of experts ("Monitoring Team")

General Assembly actionThe General Assembly of the United Nations plays an important role in setting standards and since 1963 has drawn up 13 “sectoral” conventions on the fight against terrorism.

Under the Sixth Committee (Legal), the Member States have been negotiating a draft comprehensive convention on international terrorism since 2000. In 2013, the definition of terrorism and therefore the scope of the Convention proved a constant stumbling block for discussions. Given that no conclusion has been reached on the negotiations for this Convention and in accordance with the commitment of the Heads of State and Government at the September 2005 Summit, in September 2006 the General Assembly managed to adopt the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. With this Strategy, the General Assembly reiterates and concretely strengthens its role in counter-terrorism. The strategy aims to coordinate the existing counter-terrorism mechanism and to strengthen cooperation between States and international or regional organizations regarding counter-terrorism.

To ensure smooth coordination and implementation of the Strategy, a Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) was created. Under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary-General, the mandate of the CTITF is to enhance coordination and coherence of counter-terrorism efforts of the United Nations system. It strives to promote a balanced approach to the fight against terrorism, in line with the spirit of the Strategy. While most of the onus for implementing the Global Strategy is on Member States, the CTITI ensures that the United Nations system is in line with their needs.

Human rights and counter-terrorism

Despite the emphasis that they place on counter-terrorism, several United Nations human rights bodies and promotion mechanisms have stated that they fear that counter-terrorism measures may undermine human rights. The need to strictly observe human rights standards is thus at the core of the Global Strategy. Taking effective counter-terrorism measures and protecting human rights are further mutually reinforcing goals.

In 2005, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (since replaced by the Human Rights Council) also decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, on the initiative of Mexico and with the support of the European Union. The Rapporteur issues regular reports on his activities and makes recommendations to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly. Each of these bodies adopts a resolution on this issue once per year, in particular reiterating that States must ensure that all counter-terrorism measures comply with the obligations set out by international law, especially international instruments regarding human rights, refugees and humanitarian action.

updated : 24.12.13


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